To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Part 2: Post 2: Classes

So, classes have started.

 As might be expected, classes here are an odd mix of entirely normal and really strange. The classes are smaller than what I'm used to from either high school or college, only about twelve people. I don't know if that's normal here, yet. I mean, different sizes might be typical in electives, but these classes are required, so their size is set by the number of people who need the credit, divided by two (each class has two sections, so avoid scheduling conflicts). But small classes don't seem all that strange to me; I've heard of schools that had classes this size before. We have syllabi and homework and assigned readings, just like any normal college, though I'm happy we don't have to buy our books (we're expected to share library books). The subjects we study sound fairly normal; we're not taking astrology, levitation, and herbology, we're taking introductory courses in ecology, history, psychology, and physics.

But even though we're all acting like fairly normal students, we're doing it in our Harry Potter uniforms. And our instructors are green-ringed wizards who take it for granted that students won't have much time for homework on full and new moons and that all of us can get our hands on a magic wand if we want one. And they take it absolutely for granted that none of us are interested in cheating. My whole life I've been in schools where it was obvious the teachers were watching us to make sure we didn't break any rules. They took attendance, required hall passes, hired proctors for tests, and had disciplinary policies...they don't bother with any of that here. I asked Greg about it, because he's the history teacher and history was my first class. He said "if you want to pay thirty thousand dollars a year and not get anything out of it, that's your prerogative."

Sometimes it seems like any no cheating policy they have must be purely definitional, as they actually encourage you to do things that anywhere else would be considered cheating. Physics is the only one of my classes where we're going to have a test, and it's not just open book, it's open book/take home/talk to your friends if you get stuck. That's right; we're supposed to ask our classmates for the answers. I asked the teacher about this, too. The physics teacher isn't one of the masters, incidentally; he's an adjunct, or "ally," as they call them here. His name is Jeff. So, I asked Jeff how anything involving talking to other students could be a test. He said, "look, real scientists talk to each other. I'm not interested in how easily you can recite stuff that you're going to forget fifteen minutes after the test is over, I'm interested in how well you can figure things out using all the tools at your disposal. That includes other people. Now, if you want to just avoid figuring things out by copying down answers, that's a fairly stupid waste of your time and I'm not going to waste my time making sure you don't waste yours."

These classes are short. I mean, each meeting is three hours long, but there are only eight meetings over six weeks. There isn't a lot of room in them to do more than scratch the surface, and that's what we're doing, just getting a taste of each subject. They'll be more classes later in greater depth, I suppose.

Greg, as I said, is teaching history, on Tuesdays. He's still kind of severe, but he has an interesting method; at each class he gives us a statement about history, and our homework is to find out if it's true or not. This week it's "The Jesuits were the secrete instigators of the Inquisition." Class time is for going over homework and talking about research methods, but this first week we spent most of the time in the library where the research librarian gave us a kind of orientation--with a very large parrot riding on his shoulder. The librarian's name is Aaron, and I don't think he usually has the parrot with him, he just couldn't get a sitter, but wearing a parrot seemed to suit him. I've heard he's odd but brilliant, and he must be to stand out as either around here.

Intro to Ecology meets on Mondays, but Monday was Ostar, so it met on Wednesday instead, Wednesday being the "wild day," like a wild card--each class meets once a week four four weeks and twice on two weeks, and Wednesday is the day for most of the extra meetings. Except Charlie, who teaches Ecology, had a bad cold and couldn't make it, so an ally went over the syllabus with us and got us started getting ahead on our readings.

Into to Psychology and Intro to Physics are both survey courses focusing on basic concepts and the history of the disciplines. Allen teaches the former and Jeff teaches the latter. Curiously, the one was a student of the other, and Jeff juggles in class in much the same spirit that Allen does slight-of-hand.

Kayla got to wear a different uniform shirt than the rest of us, one that folded closed, like a bathrobe, in front. I'm not sure you can see the baby in the picture; he was really small at the time.
 Kayla is in my ecology class, or at least she's sitting in on it; the only class she's officially taking is "Messing Around Outdoors," which is reportedly a series of field trips Charlie teaches every semester, but she says Charlie thought that attending the ecology lectures would help. So on Wednesday, there she was, looking like a baby Madonna nursing Aiden by a sunny window while reading one of the ecology books. He's starting to look a little bigger. I spend a lot of time thinking about how ridiculously young Kayla is, and she is really young, but she shouldn't be underestimated. She understands the reading better than I do.

[Next Post: March 25: More Classes]

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